Thursday, July 2, 2009

H1N1 vaccine ready for use by late September 2009

H1N1 vaccine ready, but you can't have it yet

Fergus Walsh | 14:00 PM, Thursday, 2 July 2009

I've been on a flying visit to Marburg, Germany to look round the cell culture manufacturing plant of Novartis.

Vaccines are important because they are the only way to ensure protection from the H1N1 swine flu virus - short of moving to an uninhabited island.

Two weeks ago Novartis boldly declared that it had produced the first batch of influenza A (H1N1) vaccine, weeks ahead of expectations.

Fergus holding flu vaccine jabYou can see from the photo that I held the jab in my hands. Just one small point - on the label it says "not for human use". So what's happening?

Novartis created the vaccine from the wild type strain of H1N1 - the sort people are catching every day. But it's a slightly modified reassortant seed that flu manufacturers are all using for their pandemic vaccine.

Novartis has demonstrated impressive speed in production, creating the experimental vaccine in just six weeks. It shows the huge advantage of growing flu vaccines in cells rather than eggs, where production takes several months.

But the race to create a vaccine won't surely have been won until the first batch of vaccine is delivered.

Novartis is just a couple of weeks behind with the first doses using the reassortant seed, so they may well still be the first to produce bulk doses. Before that happens, there will have to be clinical trials which will take a couple of months, and the product will have to be licensed.

Novartis has certainly proved itself to be the most media-savvy of the pharmaceutical companies in promoting its pandemic vaccine.

Dr Andrin OswaldStanding in front of the steel tanks in which the vaccine will be produced, Novartis executives said they hoped to make 500-600 million doses of pandemic vaccine with a price tag of between $10-15 per jab.

In line with other manufacturers, the cost will be less to developing nations. Novartis made it clear that they would not be "giving away" any doses.

This is in contrast to one of its rivals. Two weeks ago the World Health Organization welcomed the planned donation of 100 million doses of H1N1 vaccine from Sanofi-aventis, which is the world's largest flu vaccine manufacturer.

It was impressive to see the CEO of Novartis Vaccines, Dr Andrin Oswald, give interviews in fluent German, English and French. You can watch my interview with him below.

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